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(European Court of Human Rights, 9 October 2012)
The mother had learning difficulties and gave birth to a baby prematurely after being unaware that she was pregnant. As a result of the premature birth the baby had significant health needs. The local authority had concerns about the baby returning to the family household due to poor conditions and concerns about the family dynamics. A parenting assessment manual assessment found that the mother struggled to complete care tasks and had little understanding of the baby's care needs.
The baby was placed with foster parents under an interim care order. A psychologist was instructed to report on the mother's capacity to litigate and advised that the Official Solicitor ought to act as a guardian ad litem. The mother was, therefore, sent a letter from the OS and provided with information about the role and how she could challenge the instruction. During proceedings further assessments showed some improvement in the mother's parenting abilities but it was clear she would need intensive support and she had at times been unco-operative with professionals.
The judge approved the final care plan for adoption. The mother's appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed and permission to appeal to the House of Lords was refused. The mother claimed a breach of her rights under Art 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 claiming that she was not informed until after the hearing that the OS would be representing her and the psychologist failed to apply the correct test in assessing capacity.
The decision to appoint the OS was only taken after a thorough assessment of the mother and further assessments were made during proceedings. Information that had been provided to the mother about the role of the OS and how to challenge the instruction was sufficient. Formal reviews of capacity would have created unnecessary delay. There had been no violation of Art 6 of the European Convention.